Details emerge in Thomas Ferguson’s death
In the last minutes of his life, Thomas Wayne Ferguson apparently found a way to thread a white bedsheet through the opening between a metal bar and a window in his Santa Fe County jail cell.
That was all the accused child-killer needed to hang himself in April, according to records obtained by The New Mexican.
“The gap between the window and the metal bar normally has a sealant of sorts plugging the gap,” a county crime scene technician wrote in her report. “However, the sealant was missing in the area that the sheet was fed through.”
Ferguson, a repeat offender with a history of at least one prior suicide attempt, had poured shampoo on the entryway of the cell, creating dangerously slick conditions for anyone who entered, technician Shari Hill noted in her report, and “on each of the walls I noticed writing by an unknown scriber.”
On the west wall of his cell, Ferguson apparently wrote these words: “I died here,” along with “Born 10-4-75, Died 11-26-17.”
The birthdate is Ferguson’s. The death date is the day authorities say 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia died from injuries they originally said were inflicted by Ferguson.
Police found Jeremiah’s body last winter, crammed inside a plastic tub buried in a shallow grave alongside a state road near his home in Nambé. Officials originally pinned the boy’s death on Ferguson, saying he had tortured Jeremiah with various implements, including a homemade spear, a hammer and an electric shock collar.
Ferguson was charged with first-degree murder. But after Ferguson’s apparent suicide, prosecutors shifted their focus to Ferguson’s son, Jordan Nuñez, who was 19 at the time of the killing.
Nuñez, they say, may have dealt the final blow that ended Jeremiah’s life.
On a desk in Ferguson’s cell are the words: “I Love My Son Jordan,” according to the report.
Hill’s report also references two letters found in the cell on the day of Ferguson’s death: One written to a jail guard whose name, coupled with an expletive, is written on one of the cell walls; the other to Ferguson’s girlfriend and Valencia’s mother, Tracy Ann Peña, who has since pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and three drug trafficking charges as part of a plea deal that requires her to testify next year against Nuñez.
Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Rios said Monday the full contents of those letters are sealed by a court order.
The sheriff’s office published excerpts from the letter to Peña in a news release following Ferguson’s death, saying he had “professed his innocence related to the homicide of Jeremiah Valencia, expressed disdain for law enforcement and the judicial system and conveyed personal messages to family.”
The New Mexican obtained a copy of a letter Ferguson attempted to send to Peña in February, about two months before his death, in which Ferguson wrote: “I really do want you to know baby that I am not the one who did this & that I am truly sorry for your loss it was my loss too because I really do love you all so very much.”
Police and prosecutors said Ferguson attempted suicide in February 2014, when he was the target of a SWAT raid. Police surrounded a Santa Fe residence after reports that Ferguson was holding his girlfriend at the time hostage inside the home.
The woman, who escaped and was found with severe injuries, including two black eyes and bruises all over her body, told police that Ferguson had indicated to her he had been suicidal in the past.
When SWAT officers entered the home, their reports say they found Ferguson in his bedroom unconscious and barely breathing.
“It appeared Mr. Ferguson had possibly overdosed on prescription medication,” a police report said. Ferguson was taken to the hospital, police reports say, where he was “intubated and later taken to the Intensive Care Unit” after he reportedly stopped breathing.
Prosecutors who initially charged Ferguson with sexual assault, kidnapping, aggravated battery and interference with communication in the 2014 case raised in court concerns about a possible Ferguson suicide as well.
In a court document arguing that Ferguson should be held in jail during case proceedings, former Assistant District Attorney Anastasia Martin wrote Ferguson was a danger to himself.
Under the Santa Fe County jail’s suicide prevention policy enacted in 2013, jail staff is required to ask inmates about any history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts, and to monitor them if necessary.
Jail staff members fill out intake forms during this screening process, in which they document inmates’ answers to questions such as: “Have you ever tried to hurt/kill yourself?”
The 2013 suicide prevention policy also requires jail staff to review an inmate’s past history with the jail to see if the inmate has been monitored for suicide or behavioral health concerns during any past visits.
How Ferguson responded to these questions and whether jail staff were aware of his past suicide attempt when he was booked in the Jeremiah case, still is unclear.
County officials did not responded to questions on the topic at the time of his death. County attorneys refused to provide Ferguson’s medical screening documents to The New Mexican under a public records request, citing federal and state laws protecting medical information.
Spokespeople for the county and the jail said in April that they were investigating the circumstances surround Ferguson’s death and would provide updates when they had some answers they could release.
Those updates never came and officials continued to be closed mouthed about the incident Monday.
Warden Derek Williams responded to a reporter’s Monday morning message seeking updated details on Ferguson’s death by having a county spokeswoman Tessa Jo Mascareñas send an email statement just before 6 p.m. essentially repeating what a different spokeswoman said about the incident in April: “All suicide prevention polices were followed and timely checks were completed. Santa Fe County makes every possible effort to utilize preventative measures and best practices with respect to suicide prevention.
“I will continue to work to get you the more specific answers to your questions tomorrow,” Mascareñas added.